Residents can expect to see the San Marcos City Cemetery, home to over 20,000 burial sites, a little busier than usual throughout the first week of October.
From Oct. 3-7, maintenance crews will conduct an official cleanup of the cemetery. Those with loved ones buried in the cemetery have been advised by the Cemetery Commission to remove unsanctioned memorial items from gravesites prior to the cleanup.
“This cleanup is just an extension of what is usually a biannual event,” said Bobby Moore, who has served on the Cemetery Commission for over two consecutive years. “There are signs posted in the cemetery notifying visitors of the twice-yearly cleanups, so this is not something brand new. It’s a regular thing for us to have a spring cleanup that coincides with Easter and a fall cleanup that coincides with Veterans’ Day.”
The Cemetery Commission regularly meets on the fourth Wednesday of each month, Moore said. These meetings are conducted in the on-site chapel. Afterward, the commissioners typically fan out across the graveyard to tidy up the area.
“Eventually, it became apparent to us that we weren’t able to take care of the entire cemetery in this manner,” Moore said. “We meet at five o’clock, but we are not able to accomplish everything that needs to be accomplished by the time the sun goes down. We realized we needed to do something bigger in order to get the job done right. It’s a big cemetery, so it’s not realistic to do all in one day.”
Under usual circumstances, the biannual cleanups are performed by the cemetery groundskeeper, Gene Bagwell, who is contracted with the city and is responsible for a crew of maintenance workers.
“There have always been two cleanups a year,” said Bagwell, who acts as caretaker to a number of cemeteries in the Central Texas area. “The difference this year, if there is any distinction, is that the upcoming cleanup will be uncharacteristically extensive.”
Cemetery regulations prohibit general encumbrances, which include glass items and anything that could impede the maintenance process or obstruct burial space.
“A lot of these regulations have to do with the composition of grave markers,” Bagwell said. “Headstones must be permanent, rather than temporary. Burial space that is covered up or surrounded by boundaries composed of rock, brick, mortar, steel or plastic, are likewise prohibited.”
Additionally, flowers must be contained in vases attached to headstones or at the base of a memorial. Wooden crosses are prohibited because they can rot or splinter, Bagwell said.
“Anything that is not an integral part of the memorial will be removed—something that has fallen and broken, flowers that have wilted—basically things that subjectively are unsightly,” Moore said. “Temporary fences around graves are expressly prohibited, and objectively not allowed according to the code that describes in detail the different types of curbing that can be put around grave sites.”
All items that do not comply with the guidelines by Oct. 3 will be removed from the cemetery, boxed and held by the maintenance shop for a period of 30 days for family members of the deceased to pick up at their earliest convenience.
“We have received public comment from people who want a thorough cleanup to be done,” Moore said. “Prior to the cleanup, there have been and will continue to be opportunities for people to express any concerns they might have.”
Members of the community and others who have vested interest in the upkeep of the cemetery are encouraged to attend the Cemetery Commission meetings. There is always time on the agenda for public comment, Moore said.
“We realize that many of these items have sentimental value, and steps have been taken to give families more than adequate notice of the cleanup,” Bagwell said. “Nobody’s looking to upset anybody. We’re just enforcing the rules as written, in compliance with regulations and guidelines.”
All actions on the part of Bagwell and his maintenance team are taken at direction of the San Marcos Cemetery Commission.
“I think the caretakers do a great job of maintaining the space,” said Ken Claybourn, community services operation manager for the city of San Marcos.
The first burial hosted on the site took place in 1846, despite the fact that the City Cemetery was officially founded in 1876. According to the Cemetery Commission’s official website, veterans buried there represent soldiers from all wars since the War of 1812. Due to the historical significance of the site, much of the interest surrounding the cemetery is of an academic nature— but Claybourn’s interest is sentimental.
“My family has been in this area for years,” Claybourn said. “I come down here every Sunday to mow the grass around it, and take care of it. I have two grandmothers buried here, along with my dad. One day I’ll be buried here too.”
The next Cemetery Commission meeting will be held Sept. 28. at the Grant Harris Jr. Building.
“We want it to look neat and presentable,” Moore said. “We are very proud of our city cemetery, and think it’s a real asset. We want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to keep it a place where people can come and visit and pay respects to their ancestors without being distracted by things that don’t belong there.”